You have spent the time evaluating various Warehouse Management System (WMS) software packages and selected the one you feel works best for your company. Now you have to get it implemented. In this blog we will discuss, briefly, some of the major steps to complete and pitfalls to try to avoid.
Rely on the experts
Your software partner is an expert with the software. Use their expertise and experience to help you make sure you don’t miss any steps and the project stays on track. Putting in any software system can be a daunting task especially if you have never done it before. A WMS is no different. If your company has never had a WMS before then the tasks and training are even more important.
Selecting the scanning hardware
There are a wide variety of forklift mounted devices and hand held scanners on the market. First, determine if your scanning will be from a handheld or mounted device. Much of the time this choice is driven by the software user interface.
- Screen size matters. Make sure the screen is large enough and bright enough for workers to easily read the information.
- Determine what your scanning distances will be. Scanning devices will frequently be optimized for long range or short range. A long range scanner will not scan well in short range and the reverse is also true. You should consider not only the scanning of product but also the warehouse location barcodes. The product may be close to the worker but if the location sign is near the top of the racking or hanging from the ceiling it can make a significant difference.
- Sometimes it will be necessary to enter the information. This may be entering an item number or barcode number. It may simply be entering a quantity picked or put away. Make sure the keys are large enough for easy use. Many units have keyboards that are shared keys and each can have 2 or 3 outputs depending on the function key(s) pressed. Give careful consideration to what type of entry the workers will be most likely to do (numbers or letters). Make sure the default output for keys matches with the common entry requirements.
- Battery life. If possible, select a handheld which has battery life the length of a shift or greater. This will reduce the need for changing out batteries in the middle of the work day. Make sure that changing out a battery is simple and does not require tools. Also purchase 2 batteries for each device and a charging station that will accommodate all the batteries. Nothing will shut down the WMS operation faster than dead batteries!
- Demo devices. Always have the hardware manufacturer or distributor provide you with a demo device that you can use for a week. This will allow you to test scanning distances, the keyboard interaction, display resolution, and wireless connectivity.
Teaching people to scan
Scanning should be easy but at times there is an art to it. We have all been in the checkout line at a store and watched the register operator repeatedly scan an item to try and get a valid read. Finally, they give up and type in the item or price. Your employees will run into the same problems. Let them practice with the readers.
If your company has never had a WMS before the most difficult scanning issue in the beginning will be the workers remembering to actually scan the product prior to a pick or put away. Up to this point they have spent all their time just going to a location and moving inventory without recording it. Now they will have to record those movements. Until it becomes a habit, people will forget to scan. When they can’t pick the next item, ship an item, or put away an item they will become frustrated. The first couple of weeks will require some hand-holding and reminding.
Test, test, and more testing
- Scan the location labels. Make sure they validate the location.
- Run full transactions through the system. Use scanning to do the input, don’t key the information in. You want to make sure the barcodes read properly and the software is getting all the proper information.
- Make sure to test scanning and process in the warehouse as well as in the office. The office can show you the software is working but the warehouse can show you the wireless network is good and supporting the traffic.
- Create end to end scenarios that you can test to make sure you are finding the holes and are getting them corrected prior to go live.
This is where you look to your software partner for help. They know how to train on the software. Make sure you provide ample time for your staff to go through hands on training and that they have plenty of time using the devices and software during the training. A WMS needs hands on training. Don’t walk everyone through the screens and hope they get it. Make them do the tasks.
Pitfalls To Avoid
- Labels don’t scan properly. Good testing will catch this early.
- Wireless network has dead spots. While a good site survey can greatly reduce this problem, you will find “dead” areas or areas where the devices simply won’t stay connected. Note them on a map and adjust the access points to eliminate these areas.
- Incorrect inventory. In the beginning you will have times where the system will show you have units at a location and you don’t have them. During start up, simple operational mistakes will create this issue. Correct the errors as you find them and plan on a lot of cycle counting to help keep the data correct. As you work with the software, incorrect inventory data should reduce significantly.
- Scanning hardware doesn’t work well for the operation. Make sure you spend time on the selection of the hardware. Correct hardware selection is a critical to the success of a WMS, as is the software itself. This is not an area where the cheapest item is the best. Build into the budget the right amount of money for good, high quality hardware.
In summary, a WMS can add to the bottom line of a company when properly implemented. Better inventory control, increased inventory turns, faster warehouse operations, more accurate shipping and receiving, all provide savings that go right to the bottom line. Take your time when selecting the proper software. Make sure it integrates into your ERP system. Use metrics and dashboards to monitor your efficiencies in the warehouse and track improvements. These tools will help you grow your business and do more with the same or less.